Nehemiah 8:10 ~ For the JOY of the Lord is your STRENGTH!
I want to talk to you today about Joy. This past year it has taken on a new significance to me - a new meaning. To really give you an idea of why it has become so important in my life, I want to go back and explain something that we as a family went through recently.
My husband and I are what you might call A type personalities. It has always been a priority that we do things responsibly - the "right" way. We met in 2000 when I was 18 and he was 19. It didn't take long for us to become best friends and figure out that we had something special. I had just begun my first semester of college and he was starting his second year. A couple of years into the relationship we began talking about marriage but he was adamant that he finish college and have a job before we walk down the aisle, so that he could support us the way a husband should. I of course knew that was the responsible thing to do but I won't lie… it was hard to be patient! We got married in 2006, after 5 1/2 years of dating and moved from our parents' homes into an apartment. Since we were both working full time we were able to save quite a bit of money and one year after marrying we bought our first house. We knew we didn't want to rent forever and figured buying a home was the best way to invest our money. It was 2007 and right around the peak of the housing market so homes were not cheap at the time. We planned to stay there for a handful of years and then refinance so that I could eventually stay home with children. When I had our first son in 2009, I knew that I wouldn't be going back to my job as a Social Worker for the County. The job was too stressful and I was willing to give things up if need be to stay home with my child. Little did we know when we bought, that a few years later the housing market would be in ruins and we would be way upside down on our mortgage. We began to look into refinancing and realized just how hard (impossible) that would be. As an alternative we began to look into modifying our home loan to get the payments lower and more affordable. This began a two year process that would be one of the most stressful times in our marriage. I will spare you the ugly details of what it was like to deal with our mortgage company but I can tell you that there were many days where it felt impossible to find joy in our situation. Emotionally I was worn out, scared and confused. My husband and I experienced ups and downs as we battled through the process, trying to be on the same page but not always succeeding. We had a small child and were drawing from our savings every month to pay our bills. I was working a few hours a week but it was not bringing in a significant amount of money. In October of 2011 we were still battling to get somewhere with our mortgage company. We got a letter in the mail from them that they had screwed up our payments and to make up for the shortage, they would be raising our monthly payment by almost $600. At that point we threw up our hands and said, we can't do this anymore. The payments were more than we were able to make and we realized it was time to stop fighting and walk away. I remember crying so many times and thinking, "we tried to do everything right. We tried to be so responsible and now we are failing." I felt a certain level of shame at the time also. It's hard to admit that you can't afford your home and that despite all your best efforts you have to walk away. We put our house on the market and were able to sell it as a short sale in about 4 months. We were free of the mortgage but financially had nothing to show for the sale. It felt like we had lost everything financially that we had put into our home in the five years that we owned it.
When I was 8 months pregnant with our second son, we moved into an apartment about a mile away. The first two weeks that we were there were hard for me emotionally. We had downsized, we no longer had a backyard for my 3 year old to play in, my big kitchen was gone and replaced with a tiny apartment-sized kitchen. It didn't feel like home and I was about to experience another big change with the new baby on the way. I struggled with some depression and sadness. I had been praying constantly throughout this situation and would regularly give my hopes and dreams to the Lord and remember that his plan was better than mine, but the negative thoughts would still creep in on a fairly regular basis. Around the second week I was sitting on the couch crying and I thought to myself, I'm going to let myself feel this sadness for a moment and then move on. I have a home that is safe, clean and really pretty nice, while there are so many out there struggling with no place to go right now. I need to snap out of this and be happy with what I have. I still have my family, they are healthy, my husband still has his job and we can still afford groceries/PG&E/clothes and other things that we want and need. I changed my internal dialogue from, "we lost our house" to "we chose to walk away because it was best for our family", and "this is a new beginning for us, a chance to start over." It really was true… we were no longer a slave to a mortgage payment that was draining our savings. We were able to tithe at church for the first time in a few years - something that we had wanted to do but couldn't. There were new possibilities down the road for us. The lightbulb went on in my head and I realized, joy is a choice. It's up to me how I decide to look at this situation and that will largely effect how I feel about it. I began to think about what I was thankful for. I also remembered again that the Lord is perfectly in control of our lives and that he must have a better path in mind for us, I just needed to be patient while he works it out. I began to experience a peace that had been missing for a while.
The next day was a Sunday and we went to church. As soon as I got the bulletin I realized that the message notes were titled, "Choosing Joy". I almost laughed out loud! The Lord had started something in me the day before and he fully intended to carry it on with the new message series that we would be doing for the next several weeks at church. It was perfect! The sermons were based off of a book written by Kay Warren called, "Choose Joy, Because Happiness Isn't Enough." In her book she defines joy as,
"The settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things."
Boy if that didn't hit the nail on the head for me!
I got Kay's book and began reading it. I also began a bible study based on the book at church. I wanted more - I wanted to get as much out of this as I could. Over the next few months I experienced joy like I hadn't in a long time. My thought patterns were much more positive and if a negative thought crept in, I dealt with it by telling myself the truth or by reading the truth in God's word. It was an intentional process that became easier and easier. The Bible tells us in II Corinthians 10:5 to take every thought captive that is against the true knowledge of God. When the enemy (Satan), who is the author of lies, places lies in our mind, it is so important that we take those thoughts captive and replace them with truth!
Kay says in her book, "The Bible tells us that joy is available to all of us - and yet joy eludes many. In desperation, we try anything and everything we think might hold out the possibility of quenching the thirst for joy. We look to people. We look to our possessions, our position, and our personality. These things may give you happiness for a time, but eventually they will fail you, because as we've already said, happiness isn't enough. It never is. What we've counted on to establish joy in our lives isn't sufficient."
I love this quote from author C.S. Lewis, "What does not satisfy when we find it was not the thing we were desiring."
Sisters, I know that it can be so hard to find joy in our every day lives. Relationships struggle and even fail, our children stress us out, our jobs in or out of the home wear us out, people around us are negative, we don't look the way we want to or have the things that we desire. Our thought patterns whisper ugly things to us that play like a broken records over and over. We all struggle in our own personal way. I want to tell you that in spite of all of these things it is possible to have joy. It may not always be easy, but it is possible! Joy is a choice we have to make for ourselves - we DESERVE to feel joy! It is a gift that the Lord longs to give us but we have to accept it as our own.
Here is what the Bible says about joy:
Jeremiah 31:13 (The Message) I'll convert their weeping into laughter, lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy.
Nehemiah 8:10 (NLT) Don't be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your Strength!
Psalm 43:4 (NLT) There I will go to the altar of God, to God - the source of all my joy.
Job 8:21 (NLT) He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.
I keep reminders of God's promise of joy all over the place for myself. I wrote on my bathroom mirror "Choose Joy" in huge letters. Now when I see things with the word "joy" on them, I buy them for myself. Last night I found a pink sparkly "JOY" ornament on clearance at Target! I even have a dream of a joy tattoo in the works for the future ;)
If you are lacking joy in your life, my challenge for you is to begin to seek it. Read what God's word says about joy. Read Kay's book. Begin writing down or praying daily what you are thankful for and see how it changes your mindset. Spend time with people in your life who really seem to experience joy and ask them how they find their joy. If you need prayer on your journey to find joy, ask someone for it. Any one of us at Girls of God's heart would be glad to pray for you as well!